Tuesday 30 November 2010

Come buzz with me...

Find out more on ebuzzing.co.uk

This is a Sponsored Post

You may have noticed, I've started to do a few more sponsored posts recently. I held out against this for a long time, and that wasn't hard, what with the plethora of offers to review the latest online war game and more recently the chance to take my dog to a red-carpet event for pets (note to any pr's reading this, I don't own a dog, never have done, have never claimed to, and much as I like them, am not likely to change that situation anytime soon...).

However, every now and again a product or opportunity pops into my inbox that is not only relevant, but is worth sharing, as when ebuzzing got in touch with me a couple of months back.

What's ebuzzing? In their own words, they are 'part of the Wikio Group and allow you to display videos and publish articles about brands that you like, when you want, whilst earning.'

Essentially it works as follows; a blogger registers to become part of their network (at ebuzzing.co.uk), and whenever a relevant opportunity comes up, they are notified by e-mail to go and take a look at the campaign. There's no pressure to participate, but if you like the look of it you can apply to write a sponsored post using information supplied along with anything else you can find out about the brand. You are of course paid for this service (average fees to-date for a 250 word article, in my experience, are between £30 and £40), and all ebuzzing posts are clearly signposted as 'sponsored'. Essentially ebuzzing rely on the blogger themselves to write about the product rather than simply regurgitating press releases sent out to a random selection of email addresses.

Now this post is the result of one of those opportunities - you may have worked that out for yourself by now - and in addition to spreading the word about how the system works, I was asked to come up with a brand that I would like to work with, to imagine my perfect e-buzzing campaign.

I don't think it will surprise anyone who knows about my addiction to chocolate that the first company to come to mind was Green & Blacks. There's a brand I can really get behind. Not only was it originally set up in a way that provided small cocoa growers with a sustainable form of fair-trade income (although I have to admit I'm a bit hazy on how that works now it's owned by Cadbury's, who bought it in 2005), but it makes a range of amazing products for the mass market - products that I happen to love. The opportunity to write about how buying something so delicious would simultaneously benefit families living in less advantaged parts of the world (assuming that's still the case) would be what you might call a win/win situation...

Find out more on ebuzzing.co.uk

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Sunday 28 November 2010

How far will you go to maintain the Christmas magic?

You might have noticed: it's nearly December. Pre-Christmas excitement is building here at Potski Mansions, and I'm just waiting for the first request to watch The Polar Express on dvd.

The Boys love it so much that they would watch it every week of the year given half a chance, so a couple of years back I embargo'd this one and now they can only watch it during Advent. I mean, I like the movie myself, sure, but there are only so many 4 year-old impromptu imitations of Tom Hanks performing 'Hot! Hot! Hot Chocolate!' that a woman can take - especially in June...

In any case, I was wondering; have you told your children there's no Santa yet? Even if they're teenagers, I'm betting that you haven't; most kids work it out for themselves sometime before they leave home, and no parent wants to be the one to burst the bubble of the true believer in Father Christmas.

Not, that is, unless you are the husband of a friend of mine who decided when his son reached 8 years old that enough was enough, and that he wasn't going to have a son who was the only boy in the class who still believed. So he took matters into his own hands and told him that Santa didn't exist. He subsequently became persona-non-grata in the neighbourhood where, it turned out, all the children did still buy into the myth; or rather, they did until my friend's son shared his new information with them. There were a lot of sobbing children - and unhappy parents - in town that Christmas, I'm told...

Here in the Potski Familiski, however, we don't only have the Father Christmas myth to tend to. For let it never be said that we forget that whilst they may have been born and brought up (until last January, anyway) in jolly old Blighty, Boys #1 and #2 are, in fact, half Dutch. (Or at least, we don't ignore it all the time.) And at this time of the year, that means only one thing to two small boys; a double whammy on the present front. For not only are they meticulously planning their Christmas lists for the 25th December, there is - deep joy - another gifting opportunity happening before that.

Oh yes, jongens: The Sint is on his way.

The Daddy of our benevolent Father Christmas, Sinter Klaas, hits town for his big engagement on December 5th. Admittedly, by 'town' I mostly mean 'anywhere in The Netherlands', but he has also been known to visit Dutch outposts across the globe to spread the good news and deliver presents and pepernoten* to the faithful. Such as, anywhere we happen to be. Now, I'm not going to go into great detail on the traditions and background to this festival (I've already done that here if you're interested), but there is an intrinsic part of it which, for children, is almost as important as the actual presents, and that is the visit of Zwarte Piet.

Piet (or rather, the Piets - plural) are Sinter Klaas's helpers. In actual fact, I suppose they are also his spies, for they arrive on the scene 3 or 4 weeks before December 5th and their job - in addition to running the Sint's errands and carrying presents etc - is to keep an eye on children and work out who's been naughty, and who's been nice, so the big man can decide who gets presents and who doesn't. One of the ways that they do that is to visit children's homes when everyone in it is asleep once or twice in the run-up to the big day, to check that their toys are tidy and they have been doing their chores etc. It's a great way to get stuff put away before bedtime, I can tell you.

Of course, this is a reciprocal arrangement. The children, expecting these visits, will leave out a note asking for their preferred gift from Sinter Klaas and obviously a shoe (because, why not?) in which they will leave the note and a carrot for the Sint's white horse. (Not sure why the carrot, since the Sint is not actually present on this visit but it doesn't do to ask too many questions, I find...). Assuming the kids have fulfilled their side of the bargain, Zwarte Piet will leave them some sweets and pepernoten.

So far, so good. But Piet can be a mischevious little bugger. So when he visits, he doesn't just take the letters, leave the sweets, and head out. No, he likes to leave his mark, so he mixes it up a bit. He puts things where they shouldn't be, tables on chairs, cushions on the floor, toys upside down in piles etc etc, and throws the sweets and biscuits all over the floor (this bit is particularly troubling if you have a rodent problem as of course you know they're all waiting for Piet's visits in just as excited a frame of mind as the kids...). Then, when your children get up in the morning, they're not quite speechless with excitement, and in addition to dealing with the sugar high before breakfast from all the goodies they gobbled up before you stagger out of bed, you also have to re-tidy the house that you so carefully (and quietly) messed up the night before.

Which in itself, is fine. I'm happy to do that - wait until my bedtime and throw a few sweets around, mess the place up, return the carrot to the vegetable basket and so on - to maintain the magic for my kids. But I do find it all a little galling when, after a busy day of play-dates, I confront my older son about the mess in the sitting room and am told in no uncertain terms that it wasn't him who made it, honest guv. The person who scattered the lego behind the sofa, the trains across the floor, and pulled the books off the shelves was - of course - Zwarte Piet.

Because, what am I going to say in reply? 'I know it wasn't, you little monster, because actually, I am Zwarte Piet and I didn't make that mess?'

I don't think so.

Not this year, anyway.

*Pepernoten are small brown round biscuits about the same diameter as 1p or 1€c coin, that disconcertingly resemble animal droppings, but which - thankfully - taste better than they look.

Friday 26 November 2010

Hungry? I doubt it.

I was a guest at Boy #1's school assembly this morning. This sort of thing is always going to be impressive for parents of children who apparently do 'nothing' at school all day, who 'didn't learn anything', and who didn't play 'with anyone, Mama...' Today's assembly was no different. My older son, the one who doesn't learn anything, took part in a short play in which the only language spoken was Russian. But still - he doesn't actually learn anything at school, obviously.

The assembly however was not all about Boy #1 (amazingly). Each year that attended made a short presentation, sang a song, or did a play, and what really impressed me was a presentation the 5th graders did on their recent Hunger Banquet. Not having children of the right age (in this school that's 10 and 11 years old), I hadn't come across the concept of a Hunger Banquet before, and I have to say that I thought it was an amazing way to let our children - the children of the lands of plenty - understand some of the imbalance in the world.

It may be that this is an established tradition in your children's school, in which case I apologise for telling you things you already know, but if you haven't heard of such a thing, here is how a Hunger Banquet works...

The children are told not to bring any snacks or packed lunch into school with them on the chosen day. They eat nothing before lunchtime, at which point they are randomly given a ticket, which will be one of 3 colours. At our school, they were blue, white and red (Russian national flag colours, appropriately). 15% of the total tickets were blue, 35% were red, and 50% were white. The children then went to the relevantly coloured food counter; here's what happened next.

  • The 15% with blue tickets were given chicken wings, fries, nachos and ice cream for their lunch. They were also allowed to go up for seconds.
  • The 35% with red tickets were given a smaller serving, of rice and vegetables for their lunch, and no seconds.
  • The 50% with white tickets were given a very small cup of water and a small cup of rice each, and of course, no seconds. If they wanted more water, they had to leave the dining hall and walk down the corridor with their small cup, which they could refill once.

I don't know about you, but this seems to me a very powerful way of communicating to tweenagers the imbalances of food supply in our world today - and the presentation that some of them subsequently made to the rest of the school underscored that...

Click here if you're interested in finding out more about hosting a Hunger Banquet. (Oh, and no children were harmed in the presentation of this concept; the kids without the blue tickets were given a snack once they got back to their classrooms...)

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Dreeeeaam, dream dream dream....

'Imagine you won £40,000', Paypal said.  Imagine what you could do with it.  And then write about it.

How hard could that be? Well, harder than you might imagine, but here goes anyway.

Imagine; 40 grand, in your hand...   Paypal are billing it as a year's salary; all you have to do to enter is to buy something using Paypal and every single time you do so you're given a new entry to their weekly draw.

(Click here to get the details, and click here to see the t's and c's...)

So I started to think what I might buy with an extra £40,000.  Sadly, that wouldn't do the biggies, like putting the kids through university (well, it might one of them, but it's highly unlikely both of them by the time 12 years or so have passed given recent developments), or paying off the mortgage (some hope), but it could certainly make life more comfortable for a while.  I mean, I could blow it all in splurges on holidays, a new car,  flights back to the UK, a couple of mini-breaks, and perhaps some subtle plastic surgery or dental work (what? What?  I'm surrounded by perky Americans who make my smile feel just a little outshone and my chest, well...)

But back in the real world I think my sensible head would take over and I would end up using it to pay for stuff we actually need.  Well, when I say that, I mean stuff we need that I could buy from online retails who take Paypal.   It would probably get spent on computers for the kids, a new camera, purchases on i-tunes and other such 'essentials'. 

The good news of course is that the number of retailers accepting Paypal is increasing.  Which also means that I might also get to fritter some of it away on stuff for my own personal Christmas list, a work in progress but which is already taking shape...  First indications are that it may include, the new Issey Miyake perfume (which I've heard shouldn't work, but does) and a new toothbrush from Boots, a new necklace, a new dress, & a pair of jeans from Miss Sixty 

Watch this space for updates - especially if you happen to be my Husband...

This, in case you hadn't worked it out by now, was both a sponsored post  and a first attempt at steering my Husband - if he reads this - in the right direction for this year's presents.  Wish me luck...

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The Gallery Wk 36: Black & White

OK, I'm late with this - but better late than never, which is where I've been on the last few of Tara's Gallery prompts.

This week she's requested that our photo's be themed 'Black & White', and whilst I would love to be able to use a suitably moody shot I'd taken in black and white, I'm not that organised, and in fact, I don't think it's necessary when I have the one below. Admittedly, the photo I've chosen to use here has already appeared once on this blog - only a couple of days back, in fact - but I think it works. The colours are - more or less - black and white, but the black and white of nature at this time of year rather than the black or white of a photograph...

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Computers and the Family Revolution

This is a sponsored post...

I remember when my dad got his first computer, a North Star Horizon. It was not a family computer, oh no. Back in the dark ages you see (somewhere around 1981-ish, even before the ZX Spectrum appeared on the scene if you are antiquated enough to remember those), computers were not for families. Computers were serious things. They were techy. You had to be a bit of a nerd to 'get' them. The were ugly boxes with integrated floppy disk-drives (if you were lucky) that were noisy, cumbersome, took up entire desks, and dominated the room. Looking too long at it's flashing green cursor could give you a migraine.

And if you wanted to ask it to do anything much more complicated than to play Star Trek (Battle Ships without the sound-effects) or to produce a biorhythm for you (don't ask), you had to know how to talk to it. You had to speak it's language, which at the time was Basic, a fiendish combination of 0's and 1's that sent any sane person over the edge - especially if that sane person was a 14 year old girl who's grasp of numbers was shaky at best.

So I and the North Star Horizon computer didn't spend very much time together, if I'm honest. I glared at it from the other side of the room and gave it as wide a berth as I possibly could. In fact, it wasn't until the early 90's that I really got up close and personal with a computer, and even then the thought that one of them would ever be anything more than something to record profit and loss on, or to word process documents, was about as likely as Patrick Swayze ever saying 'No-one puts Potty in the corner...' (Like the cultural reference? If not, I'm guessing you're WAY too young to understand this post).

Nowadays of course, things have changed - big time. Imagine your daily family life now without access to a computer. The very fact that you're reading this suggests to me that thought is probably inconceivable. We use them to organise our music, to watch tv and movies, and catch up on what we missed when we were out living our lives. We use them to edit movies, to upload them to the internet, and see how complete strangers across the world rate those movies. We use them to make telephone calls, to pay bills, to share news or simply to keep in touch with - or tabs on - friends and family across the world..

And that's even before we think about how they are used in a classic 'work' environment, and how we use them to organise schedules, keep track of appointments, manage our finances, pay bills, and remind ourselves of all the things we have on our to-do-list in our notebooks and never got round to because we simply flipped over the page to write the next list and forgot to check back that we'd finished the previous one. (Or maybe that last one is just me...)

And, of course, not forgetting how we use computers to blog...

You would think, in fact, that we might have reached something of a plateau on how computers fit into our family lives. But of course, then why would I be writing this post? (And 'for the money!' is not the correct answer here)

No, I'm writing this post as a trip down memory lane and because if I was planning on buying a new desktop computer anytime soon I have to admit that this one would be quite high on my list of possibilities.

The new All-In-One desktop from Dell has - and I quote - ' high-definition widescreen display, internet connectivity capability (Wi-Fi), DVD drive, and the ability to connect to TV tuners, cable and satellite boxes and gaming consoles through an HDMI port.'

It appears to have similar touch-screen function to that of an i-pad or i-phone - check the youtube Video to see what I mean - which allows you to use your fingers to draw, colour or leave sticky-notes on the screen (great - somewhere other than the fridge door to remember to check). And on top of that, it's not the bulky desktop design that we're used to, but fits neatly into a corner with a stowable keyboard. And due to it's 23" screen and the fact that it looks so good, it could even make respectable-sized alternative to a standard tv.

Which only goes to show how far we've come from the ugly plastic box that was off-limits to the family, and which used to sit on my dad's desk and torment me with it's flashing green cursor...

Further information can be found here

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Monday 22 November 2010

Festive Cheer in Box...

It's not at all difficult...

To get that festive feeling...

When you look outside your window...

And see this:

Which is why I don't feel at all premature in reviewing a new dvd that's just been released: 'Nativity!'.

Living as I do in an expat environment where it's not the done thing to refer to Christmas - 'Happy Holidays!' is the greeting we're supposed to use - can I just say how nice it was to sit down and watch a movie which is unashamedly British in it's approach to this? Based on the competition between two schools to produce the best Nativity performance and gain a 5 star rating from the local rag's critic, it has all the required elements for festive viewing.

There were children dressed as angels, Wise Men dressed as Elvis (which took me back to a certain Christmas performance Boy #1 gave a couple of years back), animals behaving badly, a batty headmistress, a kooky class assistant and - of course - a curmudgeonly school teacher (played by Martin Freeman, complete with the requisite cardigan) who starts out Scrooge-like in his approach to Christmas and ends up feeling the spirit of the season on a grand scale.

This is a great 'run-up to Christmas' Saturday afternoon movie, although perhaps not for young children if you're at all concerned by the prospect of a primary school field trip to the local maternity ward. And I think the hilariously bad-taste decision by Jason Watkin's competitive private school drama school teacher's decision to shock his way to a 5 star rating by producing a show called 'Herod', might go somewhat over youngster's heads...

Overall though, I really enjoyed the movie, and without running too much of a chance of spoiling the plot, I think I can share that there is a happy ending and that you would have to be pretty Scrooge-like yourself not to enjoy the Christmas shenanigens even slightly...

Note: I wasn't paid for this post but I did receive a free copy of the dvd...

Tales from the Craft Fair

So this weekend it was finally the school Craft Fair - something I helped to organise and which we've been working on since May. This sounds like a humble event but is in fact anything but; 400+ children descent upon the school on a Saturday to participate in making crafts like tree decorations, kites, sun catchers and similar. Let me tell you, there was a LOT of glitter involved. A lot. I'm hoping to get the last of it out of my hair by Christmas.

Overall the event went very well, lots of satisfied customers, lots of happy parents that they've been able to get their kids to spend a rainy morning doing something other than playing on the Wii or watching tv. However, there are always a few rotten apples in the barrel - although I'm not speaking of any of the children...

Tale 1

Following suggestions that in previous years there hadn't been anything sufficiently challenging for the 9 and 10 year old girls to do (I hate to say 'girls', but there really weren't many boys of that age there), we made sure there were a couple of crafts specifically for them. One of them was to stitch various forms of decoration onto a canvas tote bag. (Can you see where this one is going yet?). The decorations included ribbons, felt shapes, jewels and - crucially - a large box of funky coloured buttons.

Halfway through the morning, the mum looking after the table found me and asked for help, unsure of how to handle a situation that had arisen. One of the mums - at least I assume she was a mum although there was no child to be seen - had stationed herself at the end of the table (the one clearly signposted '4th and 5th graders ONLY') and was fashioning her own tote bag and crucially, had made a little pile of all the best buttons and was growling at any child who dared approach them. We had the following conversation;

Me: "So, are you enjoying yourself?"

Her: "What? Oh, yes yes..."

Me: "It's just that these crafts are meant to be for the children..."

Her: "Yes, I know that. I'm making this with my son."

Me: "Right. And he is...?"

Her: "Over there. On the kite table."

Me: "But not here? Although it's his craft?"

Her: "Well, I asked him to. But he didn't want to. So I'm making it on his behalf."

Tale 2

A little boy of around 6 years old reported himself lost, so one of my colleagues on the organising team for the event walked around with him for 15 minutes before finding his mum. On seeing her - standing at the craft table where you could stick sea-shells around wooden photo frames and then, of course, finish them off with glitter - he promptly burst into tears and ran over for comfort, which she duly gave. Before continuing with what she had been doing, which was sweeping her pre-selected pile of all the best shells on the table into her handbag to take home with her...

It's never the kids, is it?

Friday 19 November 2010

Note to self #167

1. Whilst out shopping in your local mall do not wander into the newly opened Lego store to check out a particular object of desire for your son. (You don't have your children with you, for chrissake. Why on earth would you go into a toy shop?)

2. If, however, you do find yourself in this situation, do not pick up a copy of the latest catalogue.

3. Especially, do not leave said catalogue sitting on the front seat of your car.

4. Where it can be found by your children when you pick them up from school...

5. Or you will find that it will be studied, pored over and salivated on by both sons (even the older one who you didn't think was really into all that stuff), enabling them to extend their Christmas lists and even provide an object of desire to replace this in your younger son's affections. (Airplanes are yesterday's toy, apparently. The cool kids now want red trains).

6. But most importantly, should all of the above happen, ensure that said devilish book / innocuous catalogue is stored somewhere in plain sight so that when Boy #2 wakes up at some ungodly hour, weeping and wailing when it is not immediately to hand (sorry dear neighbour for what must have been a very rude awakening this morning), you are spared a 15 minute search for it in the pre-school run madness.

7. And which may result in mother-driven-to-the-limit outbursts that almost - but not quite - require the replacement of yet another bathroom step...

Monday 15 November 2010

Question: how do you discipline your children?

Always assuming, that is, that you live in the real world where - shudder - sometimes children don't always do what they are told and even, sometimes, are wilfully naughty...

Do you always carry your threats through? Or do you find yourself taking the line of least resistance, bleating hopelessly from the sofa 'don't do that little Johnny - cats don't like being carried around by their tails, he'll - oh, yes, well that wasalways going to happen wasn't it?'

Probably, if you're anything like me, you'll do a little of both, and more often than not which it is will depend on how much time you have to spare. For example, the naughty chair? All very well, but first thing in the morning on a school day I don't have 4 or 7 minutes spare to put the offending Boy on it; we're usually late already, so punishing the fact that my 10th request to put shoes and coats on has been ignored again is counterproductive. So the naughty chair tends to be a measure for the weekends, or after school (although obviously my sons are such little angels I never have to use it. Well, not for Boy #1, anyway).

The naughty shelf - the indefinite removal of a favoured toy / book etc to somewhere out of reach - gets pressed into service occasionally. Especially when we're in a rush. The only problem with that one is that whatever gets put up there usually gets forgotten about, as with a magnetic fishing rod stuffed on the top of my wardrobe when I had been hit in the face with it once too often by an over-enthusiastic child using it as a light sabre. It was banished in June, and rescued in September...

Then of course, there is the with-holding of pocket money. That worked for a while, but Husband and I are so rubbish about remembering to give it out that I think my children are under the impression it comes so seldom in any case that there's no point expecting to add it to their stash. Right now I think that I owe them each about 6 weeks, and since I don't have so much cash to hand it will probably be at least 7 before I'm in a position to remedy that...

Recently, with an increasing focus on Christmas (see this post), we've been using the 'If you don't behave Santa won't bring you your favourite presents' line, but Boy #1 is - I suspect - already doubting his existence, and Boy #2 doesn't really believe we'll carry it through. Or, he bucks up his ideas for all of 5 minutes before continuing with whatever he was doing before mum or dad inconveniently intervened.

So, in the absence of the ultimate Bad Thing - corporal punishment - what do you do? And I am of course assuming you will have given me credit and assumed that I have already exhausted the 'reasonable approach' method - talking it through, explaining why whatever it is they're up to is not acceptable / a good idea etc - before reverting to other forms of discipline.

Because, I'm looking for ideas here. Especially after yesterday evening when I was faced with a 4 year old who was blatantly laughing in my face at my increasingly annoyed requests he get. Undressed. And. Get. Into. The. Bath. Now. So I decided to carry through on the threat I had made 5 minutes earlier, and simply dumped him in there fully clothed.

It did have the desired effect - to shock him into getting undressed as quickly as possible - but unless I'm prepared to do an extra load of laundry every evening, it's not really a sustainable form of discipline. And of course, not every 'disagreement' we have involves a bathtub full of warm water...

Any ideas?

(Oh yes, and sadly not giving him a bath wasn't an option...)

Thursday 11 November 2010

Big Train Love and Boy' #2's Burgeoning Christmas List

This afternoon Boy #1 and I arrived to collect Boy #2 from his once a week post-school Dutch class. Bearing in mind that all three of us are still recovering from our late arrival back in Russia on Monday night after a busy half term, and that the Boys' body clocks have been thrown completely off by the 3 hour time difference, I wasn't at all surprised to find that Boy #2 had nodded off in the book corner whilst playing with cars. And bless his Dutch teacher, she had let him.

We gently woke him up and he did that unbearably cute thing of looking around all wide-eyed in surprise (was I asleep Mama? No, of course not...), before walking over to the door of the classroom to pick his stuff up before we headed home.

I went to help him on with his jacket, and suddenly encountered an unfamiliar, squarish lump under the sleeve of his sweatshirt. It was so well hidden in fact that if I hadn't been assisting a tired sleepy boy to find his coat sleeve, he just might have gotten away with it.

"What's that?"

"Ssssshhhhh Mama" he whispered, sotto voce. I can't believe it, but he really thought I was going to buy into this heist... "Don't tell anyone. They'll see..."

See what? Well, I pulled a green wooden double decker Brio train - belonging to the school - from his sweatshirt sleeve. This boy loves trains, you see, with a passion. Well, he loves all forms of transport if I'm honest. Prior to this attempt at The Great Train Robbery (see what I did there? Huh? Huh?) his most recent object of desire has been a red Lego plane (and - obviously - the accompanying Lego airport) that he spotted in a catalogue he found in the back of one of his brother's birthday presents (also Lego). He wants this plane. He NEEDS this plane. His life is not complete without this plane. It looms large in his legend and is mentioned whenever possible. He's developed quite a sales patter actually; Husband reported the following conversation:

Boy #2: "So Santa's going to bring me a red Lego airplane. This one." (He points firmly at the relevant page in the brochure,which rarely leaves his side)

Husband: "Really?"

Boy #2: "Yes, yes he is. Because he knows, you see, that I don't have one."

Husband: "Well, you do actually. A Lego airplane and a Playmobil one."

Boy #2: "Yes. I do. But this one, this one is red. And he knows I don't have a red one."

Husband: "OKaaaay."

Boy #2: "Plus, plus, this one comes with it's own airport. So I can fill it up with petrol and everything..."

So Santa, baby, can you put one under the tree for Boy #2? Although Christ knows how we're going to fit that in our luggage on our way back from the UK after Christmas...

Wednesday 10 November 2010


Sometimes I get tired of being the voice of reason. Sometimes I look around me at others throwing their toys out of their playpen, both in the real and the virtual world, and I think, 'God yes, I know just what you mean. That is unreasonable behaviour, I'm not going to stand for it either and in fact I'm going to be pretty unreasonable myself until you damn well sit up and take notice.'

Sometimes I want to scream from the top of the house 'What about me? Sod your problems! Doesn't anyone want to hear what I think about this?'

Sometimes putting on a sensible happy voice, having a positive outlook, just stinks. Sometimes I want to hide under the duvet and, like my youngest son, refuse to come out until I know for certain that something good is happening today, that it doesn't involve a schedule, and that if I want to stay in my dressing gown until bedtime and play with my trains, I can.

Sometimes being the invisible woman at parties get right up my nose. Sometimes dealing with strangers' judgements of my life choices, of my current status as a stay at home mum drives me insane. Sometimes I hate myself for justifying those choices and qualifying them with 'but I also write / consult / do marketing projects'. Sometimes I just want what I say and who I am right here, right now, to be enough - for them, and me.

Sometimes being the one who has to think about the laundry, the shopping, making the school lunches and a million other domestic details is just too bloody boring for words. Sometimes all I want to do is put on a pair of killer heels, designer jeans and a cute jacket, go to a wine bar with my girlfriends and get pissed on white wine for the afternoon, before carrying on into the evening. Sometimes I want to behave disgracefully, giggle uproariously, tip the beer-goggle-attractive waiter handsomely, before going out to a night club eventually rolling home at 3am.

Sometimes I want to be able to get an unsuitable manicure in a colour that I know will show the tiniest chip and not care about it because, what the hell, I have time; I can get it redone again whenever I choose if that happens.

Sometimes I want to go out with my Husband and not have to get home in time to let the babysitter go at a reasonable hour. I want to walk hand in hand, snog on romantic embankments and unsuitable tube stations, spend wild weekends, and just enjoy being us without any of the white noise, distraction and flashes of 'how the fuck did I get here?' that come with being a grown-up leading a grown-up life.

Sometimes I want to walk into a clothes shop and not take two sizes into the changing room; the one that I managed to fit into for a week last year after a bout of food poisoning and the (larger) one that I will actually be able to zip up now.

Sometimes I want to read glossy magazines without paying particular attention to the features on ageing and how to non-surgically remedy crows-feet and frown lines. Sometimes I want to go to the hair-dressers and not see the grey hairs sprinkled amongst the brown on my shoulders.

Sometimes I don't want the best reflection of myself that I see all day to be the one in the mirror just before I put my contact lenses in.

Sometimes, the passage of time just pisses me off.

But then...

Then I stand up and walk away from laptop. I take a deep breath. I walk upstairs and look in at two perfectly-formed heads asleep on their pillows. I look at the life that my Husband and I have made together. And whilst it would be trite - and untrue - to say that the sight of them makes everything alright all the time, I know that if I had the chance to swap - them or him - for what once was, I wouldn't consider it even for a heartbeat.

(Although a decent manicure would be quite welcome - my nails are shocking...)

This has been a rare candid post from Potty Mummy. Normal shallow service to be resumed shortly.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

I've booked...

We're back in Moscow after our week in the UK. I have a million loads of laundry to do, a fridge to stock, bags to unpack, and a pile of mail (both real and virtual) to open. What to do first? Well, isn't it obvious? I'm going to ignore all of that and write a blog post.

It's quite grey and gloomy here. Not cold, particularly; it's about 10 degC today, so yahboo sucks to all those who's first question on learning of where we live is 'isn't it freezing over there?' (Mind you I think I'll be less smug about the answer if you ask me the same thing come the end of the month). And it's good to be home.

Not so good though that I'm not looking ahead to next year; specifically to Saturday 25th June and the Cybermummy conference. I've made a leap of faith and have booked an early bird ticket -having enjoyed the last one so much I didn't want to miss out on the chance to do so again next time - but it did occur to me that there may be some people out there who didn't go to in July and are unsure what to expect if they go to the next one. And it would be a real shame if, because of that, they don't go; one of the fantastic things about mummy blogging is that there is a constant stream of new recruits as new parents come online in search of support / entertainment / ratification / escape / camaraderie and find it all of those and more through blogs.

This, then, is a post I wrote a few days after the first Cybermummy conference; as ever it's highly subjective as all it will give you is my personal point of view of the day. Then again, isn't all blogging essentially about an individual's point of view? In any case, maybe it will help encourage anyone unsure of what to expect from the next conference to make their own leap of faith and come along too...

July 6th, 2010

At the parent's in law, still in London. The sounds of 'Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang' drift out from the sitting room where the boys are spending a glorious morning ensconced in front of the box... (don't judge me; it's week 3 of the school holidays. WEEK 3! And it's only July 6th!) Every now and again Boy #1 bursts out into the dining room where I'm tapping away on the lap top to ask pertinent questions like 'It's the same man in this as in Mary Poppins. Does that mean that Bert has two jobs?' and to exclaim 'No! No!' when the pirates sail over the horizon. I'm currently on standby for when the odious Child Catcher appears since I have no doubt my presence will be required to ward off his advances...

It's all a very long way from Saturday when I joined 200 other delegates at the Cybermummy event in Earl's Court.

Nixdminx summed up the day pretty well for me in a post yesterday when she asked the question 'Cybermummy or Womanhood?' So many different women, so many different lifestyles, but all part of this phenomen and all giving a voice to their experiences of being a woman and a mother.

Before I started blogging I have to admit that I thought of bloggers as people who sought solace and companionship in cyberspace because they couldn't find it in the real world. Bloggers, I thought, probably didn't wash very much. The curtains on their homes were usually shut. They played fantasy games on the internet, and ate a lot of take-aways. They certainly didn't do the laundry, the school run, hold down a job,or juggle a family's schedule. Then - almost by mistake and entirely thanks to Pig in the Kitchen - I became a blogger myself, and suddenly the preconceptions that I had previously had became those of others about me, others who knew nothing about this new and vibrant world that I had stumbled into.

To start with, I didn't really tell anyone about my on-line life. I was worried what they might think of me (given my own previous prejudices, for example), I was worried that they might - the horror! - read what I wrote. But over time, I gained confidence and started to share with close friends what I was doing. I even told my Husband the address after a close friend of his took the trouble to find the blog on google (never forget; you might think your blog is anonymous but if it contains even a kernel of truth about your life, you're not. Bear that in mind when you hit publish...).

And then I took the final leap into linking my real-life with my on-line life; I met another blogger.

As I stood and waited for her to arrive I have to admit that I did wonder what the hell I was doing. One of the issues that seems to come up time and again for bloggers is the hypocrisy of repeatedly warning your older children about 'the weirdo's on the internet' and the absolute no-go of ever meeting them in person - and then going to do exactly that yourself. What if she turned out to be some sort of psycopath who bore no resemblance to the warm and witty person I knew online? What if she turned out to be some kind of internet stalker? What if this meeting turned into a special feature in The Daily Mail, a tale of horror, the apparently sympathetic tone of the article heavily underscored with the unspoken suggestion that 'she should have known better; no good can ever come from the interweb?'

Of course, that's not how it turned it out at all. Frog in the Field and I had a great time; so great in fact that when she roped me in to a special screening for mummy bloggers of 'Chuggington' a few weeks later I didn't hesitate to say yes. And that's where I met 'A Modern Mother', and Jo Beaufoix amongst others. A couple of weeks later when the former asked us to be part of a new ning she was setting up, instead of replying 'what on earth is a ning?' I answered yes, and that's how I ended up in Earl's Court on Saturday, surrounded by yet more warm and witty people who I had also met on the internet.

It was wonderful. For a start, everybody there had washed. There were no drawn curtains, no take-away cartons (at least, not during the day. I can't speak for later after a few glasses of wine had been consumed, obviously...) And I can't sum up my feelings about the day better than to quote something from an e-mail that a good friend of mine - who, whilst I had never met her in person before Saturday most definitely fits that description - sent afterwards, and which I think applies to just about everyone I spoke to at Cybermummy;

'I loved meeting you. You are so very YOU!'

Friday 5 November 2010

Dear So and So

This post was inspired by Hot Cross Mum, who in turn was inspired by Kat at 3 Bedroom Bungalow

Dear PR account exec,

I don't want to be pernickety, but you know what? It's one of those days, so I'm going to (for reasons that will become clear at the foot of this post). Just a couple of pointers on how to address a mummy blogger who's had more than one or two e-mails from people in your profession;

1. Do not start your e-mail to me by saying 'Hiya'. I will ignore you on principal. That is all.
2. Some form of salutation is preferred, however. Launching straight into your press release without even bothering to put 'Dear Potty Mummy (acceptable), 'Hi there' (must you?), or even 'Hiya'(god forbid) makes me suspect that I'm not the only mummy blogger on your distribution list.
3. Do take note of where I am geographically located. Offering to come to my 'office' (aka dining room table) to talk me through your latest dream product is all well and good but if your office is in central London, somehow I don't think trotting out to suburban Moscow is quite what you had in mind. That is why 'Moscow, Russia' is only the 2nd fact that appears on the 'About Me' section at the top of the sidebar....
4. Don't chase me. If I want to use something you send me, I'll let you know - promise. Pleading follow-up e-mails will only make me feel guilty and then I'll have to dodge your subsequent notes too, and you'll worry why I'm not getting back to you and so you'll send more and then I'll have to hide behind an 'out of office' curtain when you drop by and oh, it'll all be too sad and our relationship will be over.

Yours, a ranty Mummy Blogger with clearly too much time on her hands.

Dear Dentist,

It would be nice if, when I raise my hand as a sign of protest (as you suggested I should if the pain gets too bad) whilst you do your worst on my teeth with your fiendish machines, you take notice, and actually stop. Or was that just something you said to make me feel I have some control of what's going on when really, I don't? (Raises hand frantically in the air)

Yours, (mumble dribble ow) PM.

Dear Well Woman Clinic Nurse

OK. It's only 5 kilos, I know that. Not much more than the weight of a full-term baby, I get it. But when you ask my weight for the records and I tell you a figure that is 5 kilos less than the one you recorded on my last visit, you could at least sound a little impressed. Oh, and deciding that the visit I scheduled in for a general check-up is a good time to throw in an unexpected smear test? Nice. ( A woman needs to steel herself for things like that, you know...)

Yours, (so thin these days that if I turned sideways you might miss me) PM.

Dear Skinny Girl in Well Woman Clinic

Announcing your weight at the top of your voice to the nurse so that all the other patients could hear it is not impressing any of us. Especially, it is not impressing those of us who have just had the news of our recent weight loss ignored by the same nurse, and especially especially when the weight we have just reached - which is, by the way, the lowest we have tipped the scales at since before becoming pregnant with our first child - is still 11 kilos more than the figure you just shouted across the surgery.

Yours, (pass me that chocolate I need to console myself) PM.

Dear Diary,

letting me schedule in a smear test and a trip to the dentist on the same afternoon; WTF were you thinking????

Yours, the bad-tempered mummy blogger with the hurty teeth and...

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Autumn pleasures...

The Boys and I are back in the UK for their half term week. It's been action-packed so far (hence the lack of blogging). I do however have a few observations to make. Firstly, that I bloody love Autumn. That whole 'Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness' vibe just feels right to me. And I noticed that...

1. The autumnal colours in the south west of the England this year are outstanding. OUT - STANDING. So...

2. ...why then did I leave my decent camera in Moscow? Could it be because subliminally...

3. ... I knew that during our visit I would be collecting the small camera I dropped off for repair during our summer holidays here? Although, if that was in the fact the case...

4. ... why the hell did I leave it's battery in Moscow (along with the previously mentioned other camera)?

And one more observation for luck...

Picture the scene. A classic bonfire night celebration (yes yes, too early I know, but nothing was going to come between my dad and his opportunity to celebrate that most macho of dates with all 3 grandsons in attendance). The fire was roaring, the fireworks had been set off to the accompaniment of requisite ooohs and aaaaahs, and soup, sausages, baked potatoes, mulled wine and gingerbread had been devoured in short order.

The Somerset night was black as pitch - a fact used to his advantage by Boy #2 who was crouched behind my mother on her chair, popping out his head every now and again to make surreal remarks, making her look like nothing less than a curiously half-rejuvenated version of that 2 headed chap in The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In between laughing at my younger son, cuddling my older one, and being shocked by my dad's reminiscences of the appallingly dangerous things he and his boyhood friends used to get up with dud fireworks they collected the day after Bonfire Night (drying them out in the oven seemed a particularly interesting way of having fun with gunpowder), my sis and I even managed to fit in a couple of campfire songs like 'Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gumtree' and 'Ging-gang-Gooly...' - in the round, no less, and accompanied by suitable drum-machine like noises by my bro and nephew.

Oh yes. The observation? You can take the girl out of the 1970's, but it seems that you can't take the 1970's out of the girl...

Treacle toffee, anyone?